The Danger of Ill Fitting Clothes
THE FRONT LINE
Lauren Keesey (name changed to protected identity) is a fourth-generation firefighter. She comes from a family of firefighters. Her uncles and grandparents were involved with the fire service community; some were firemen, and others donated financial resources to their local fire stations.
Lauren brings 16 years of fire fighting experience, a law enforcement degree, 100+ certifications in fire emergency medical service (EMS) and emergency management, 10 years of emergency medical technician (EMT) experience, and 12 years in emergency management. All this experience makes her a valuable asset to the community.
Throughout her career Lauren has seen the emergency service sector adapt to new technology, chemicals, and situations; but not with clothing.
ONE SIZE DOESN'T FIT ALL
Becoming a wildland firefighter is a lifelong commitment to physical health. The average weight of a firefighter pack is about 25-40 pounds.
While the gear is designed to help increase your visibility, shield you from heat, and smoke, it is no surprise that it should also fit well and be comfortable. Unfortunately, the personal protective equipment (PPE) gear provided by fire stations is mainly designed for men. The average height of a male firefighter is 5’ 8”, while a women’s average height is 5’5”. With the average weight difference being 42 pounds.
When Lauren, gets ready to fight a fire, she is reminded how much of the PPE is not designed with her in mind. Women's uniforms are nonexistent. In her experience, wearing something simple as a shirt is challenging and typically restrictive when it comes to the chest area.
THE DANGER OF ILL FITTING CLOTHES
While on wildland firefighting calls, she found that the shirts were challenging to carry a radio pack, the shirt pockets got in the way of pack straps, and the chest area was often too tight, creating an obstacle to see items at her feet.
“The pocket configuration is challenging, which leads to performance issues when it comes to completing the job.” - Lauren
Similar issues were presented when it came to the wildland pants. For instance, the men's pant designs were often too long and large in the waist.
There aren’t many options available to women. More often than not, women have to deal with shoes that don’t fit and clothing that is too large, which encumber movement, flexibility, and the ability to evade hazardous situations.
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA):
- 94,000 women work in the fire service
- Female firefighters face a 33% higher risk of injury
- 80% of female firefighters reported wearing Ill-fitting PPE
“Ill-fitting PPE is certainly playing a role in that greater risk of injury and even risk of fatality. They’re not able to move as easily or as quickly as they need to. That puts them at great risk.”
A proper fit will ensure that the garment offers maximum protection and prevents injury risk. Properly fitting PPE should enable a full range of motion. While protection is the utmost priority, being comfortable while on the job, especially in more physically-demanding trades, is nothing to ignore.
TURNING THE TIDE
True North Gear prides itself in developing wildland firefighting and industrial safety clothing and gear for women and men. While the options are still limited, we carefully address and design women's gear with their bodies in mind.
"What is ultimately at stake when we put out a piece of clothing is somebody's life, and it's that simple. If we don't do our job right and create a piece of clothing that can keep that person safe, they may die or get seriously injured. I think of that every day." -Alyx, CEO at True North Gear.
Our in-house designers take their time creating clothing that fits a woman's body. We gather feedback from focus groups to ensure we are on the right track when developing women's clothing. We are working toward becoming a resource for women who need protective gear.
Our goal at True North Gear is to develop innovative clothing tailored for the job while providing options for improved comfort and mobility in women's PPE to reduce the risk of injury.